What is it about the word 'communist' that makes certain brains go mushy? Take a look at this NYTimes story conflating two recent decisions by the Kerala government: banning Coke and Pepsi, and promoting the use of Linux and Open Source software in public institutions.
In a new attack on multinational corporations, the Communist government in India’s southern state of Kerala is campaigning to eliminate Microsoft from use in public institutions, just weeks after it imposed a ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
A couple of paragraphs later, the conflation shows up again, in a decidedly alarmist avatar:
The news will further unsettle foreign investors in this state. Also this month, Kerala imposed a sweeping ban on the sale and production of Coke and Pepsi ...
I am willing to admit that a part of the blame must go to the government of Kerala. When some of your decisions -- like banning Coke and Pepsi -- are patently loony, they colour the prism through which the world sees your other decisions. Yet, it shouldn't absolve the reporter -- Amelia Gentleman, in this case -- of the duty to get the essentials of the story right. Interestingly, she did get at least one essential piece right, except that she chose to bury it the most inessential part of the story -- at the very end!
Financial, rather than ideological, reasons may be at the root of the state’s decision to promote free software.
The Education Ministry has an annual budget of 40 million rupees, or $1.86 million, to promote computer technology among the one million students, aged between 5 and 15, currently at school — a sum that will be stretched as Mr. Baby attempts to fulfill his ambition of making all the state’s “schoolchildren computer literate.”
In between, the story also mentions Microsoft's 'concessional' pricing for schools: $25 to $30 for the Window$ operating system; even this price is about 10 to 20 percent of the cost of a low end PC. As an 'enlightened' -- even if Communist! -- consumer, doesn't the Kerala government have the right to choose the less expensive option? Why should alarmist interpretations -- attack on multinational corporations, unsettling of foreign investors, etc. -- override a simpler one?
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Update (31 August): In a post three days ago, Krish castigates the Financial Express for the same offence: leading off with a stupid reference to the cola ban, in spite of knowing the details behind the decision to use linux in public institutions.